Thursday, January 28, 2016

OverAnalyzed: H.P. Lovecraft's Commonplace Book

Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He was a guy. He wrote things. Things that inspired generations of writers to follow. Also things about black cats with unfortunate names. He kept a commonplace book. If you're not familiar with the term, it's basically just a notebook you use to write down cool ideas. Nothing too fancy. Really, you could just call it a notebook and be done with it. Anyway, I have a (bootleg) copy of his commonplace book, and when I was leafing through, I noticed that some of the story ideas seemed...familiar. So, I went through and found anything that rang a little bell of memory, then cross-referenced his stories and poems to see what I could see. Namely, one-to-one correlations between numerous ideas and his written works, as well as the evolution of his ideas for stories. Here they are. If you'd like to follow along, a digital copy of Lovecraft's notebook can be found here. Obviously, there will be spoilers of 100-year-old stories. You've been warned.

The entries work like this:
Position in notebook; date of idea; date used, work it inspired; idea; comments.
69; 1912; Blue orbs of pestilence fell among the crop; "The Blight From Space;" 1915; This is fake.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

15; 1918; 1929, "Fungi From Yuggoth - The Canal;"  Bridge and slimy black waters; Pretty much just the skeletal image around which this particular sonnet of Fungi From Yuggoth was composed.

25; 1919; 1926, "Call of Cthulhu:" Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief; This is more-or-less the opening act of "The Call of Cthulhu," not one-for-one, but quite close in overall structure. Some of the language may appear, I'd have to check. 

28; 1919; 1920, "The Cats of Ulthar;" The Cats of Ulthar
. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.; The obvious bit is that he had the title in mind already. However, the overall imagery of the idea shows up in the story as well. 

48; 1919; 1920, "The Doom That Came to Sarnath;" Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath; Admittedly, this one is a bit tenuous, but given that it shortly predates "Sarnath" I think it's a fair bet that the story about a supernatural eradication of a city has its roots here. 

49; 1919; AZATHOTH-hideous name; So, this one isn't a direct inspiration of a story, but it's the first mention of Azathoth in writing, well before he's mentioned in any Mythos tale.

54; 1919; 1933, "The Thing On the Doorstep;" Transposition of identity; Once again, this is a bit tenuous, but it's the first glimpse of an idea that will be more fully fleshed out later. We'll return to "The Thing On the Doorstep."

69; 1919; 1930, "The Whisperer In Darkness;" Man with unnatural face--oddity of speaking--found to be a mask--revelation; Here we have the first germ of the horrible revelation at the root of "Whisperer." We'll see more later.

87; 1920; 1927, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward;" Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”; Yeah. This is basically the main plot point of "Charles Dexter." Need I say more?

92; 1922; 1928, "Cool Air;" Man's body dies--but corpse retains life. Stalks about--tries to conceal odor of decay--detained somewhere--hideous climax; I don't think you can describe the doctor in "Cool Air" as really stalking, and technically he's alive while his body is dead, but this is definitely plot of "Cool Air."

95; 1922; 1924, "The Shunned House;" Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside--overtaken by growth. Verse "The House" as basis of story; Oh, hey, which story is about a horrible Colonial farmhouse and garden on a city hillside? "The Shunned House" is.

101; 1923; 1923, "The Festival;" Hideous secret society--widespread--horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes--one's own neighbour may belong; If you want to be a pedant, you could say that this doesn't 100% map to "The Festival." However, I would argue that the main points--A hideous secret society, horrible rites in caverns under a quaint New England town, and one's own family belonging--are pretty spot-on. 

117; 1923; 1928, "The Dunwich Horror;" A secret living thing kept and fed in an old house; If I were to summarize "Dunwich," that's how I'd do it. 'Nuff said. 

132; 1925; 1926, "Pickman's Model;" Mad artist in ancient sinister house draws things. What were his models? Glimpse.; Artist? Models? Gotta be Pickman. Good old Pickman. That quest in Fallout 4 is great. 

134; 1925; Posthumous "collaboration" with August Derleth, "Witches' Hollow;" Witches' Hollow novel? Man hired as teacher in private school misses road on first trip--encounters dark hollow with unnaturally swollen trees and small cottage (light in window?). Reaches school and hears that boys are forbidden to visit hollow. One boy is strange--teacher sees him visit hollow--odd doings--mysterious disappearances or hideous fate.; So technically Lovecraft didn't write this. August Derleth did, and created a sub-par knockoff of "The Colour Out of Space." Still...

139; 1925; 1925, "The Horror at Red Hook;" DELRIO asks, "An sint unquam daemones incubi et succubae, et an ex tali congressu proles nasci queat?"; Lovecraft directly quotes this in "Red Hook." In fact, Delrio is a real guy. Martin Delrio, an early-Renaissance Jesuit theologian who studied superstitions and witchcraft. Some people claim his books caused witch hunts, however, they were primarily scholarly works. Lovecraft's translation is not 100% accurate, apparently. My Latin's too rusty to be sure. 

143; 1926; 1929, "Fungi From Yuggoth - The Well;" Strange well in Arkham country—water gives out (or was never struck —hole kept tightly covered by a stone ever since dug)—no bottom—shunned and feared—what lay beneath (either unholy temple or other very ancient thing, or great cave-world).; Once again, this is more or less the general skeleton for the sonnet. However, I would also like to point out that this reminds me a bit of  "Colour Out of Space." Also I am not going to cite any more of these because they're kind of boring, honestly. There's quite a few bits of "Fungi" in his notes. 

151; 1927; 1930, "The Whisperer In Darkness;" Man forced to take shelter in strange house. Host has thick beard and dark glasses. Retires. In night guest rise and sees host's clothes about--also mask which was the apparent face of whatever the host was. Flight.; Oh, hey. It's a one-for-one description of the end of "Whisperer." Told you we'd be coming back to it. 

158; 1928; 1933, "The Thing on the Doorstep;" Man has terrible wizard friend who gains influence over him. Kills him in defence of his soul—walls body up in ancient cellar—BUT—the dead wizard (who has said strange things about soul lingering in body) changes bodies with him . . . leaving him a conscious corpse in cellar.; This doesn't quite map with "Thing" but it's darnededly close. A lot of the ideas appear in "Thing" and the bits that don't are more for the sake of story. Also, told you we'd see this again!

And that's it. After 1928, none of Lovecraft's ideas in his notebook seem to come to fruition in story. He did write other things, just none from the notebook. I find it interesting that sometimes he really liked an idea, and seems to write it within a few months, while other times he rolled it around in his brain for years. (For example, "Whisperer," which got its beginning in 1919, but wasn't fleshed out until 1930). Anyway, hope you enjoyed this. I sure did!